Journalist Profiles

Journalist Spotlight: Steve Friedman

Long-form magazine journalist Steve Friedman came as a guest speaker to Professor David Alm’s Magazine Writing class on Thursday, Oct, 26.  A teacher, writer, and editor whose articles have appeared in GQ, the New York Times Magazine, Glamour, Runner’s World, and many other publications, Friedman is also soft, and from time to time confuses his anxiety for laziness. 

Friedman shared how he skipped most of the formal grounding in English and literature due to his own fear of failing, something he regrets. In terms of journalism education, which he pursued at the University of Missouri, he chose to ignore the teachings on structure and sentences. He found them boring. 

His unique approach adds freshness to his stories. He avoids journalistic conventions such as the inverted pyramid, and when in doubt he relies on the old truism: no logic like chronologic. In other words, a straight timeline is often the best way to make sense of the information you’ve gathered. His pieces usually begin with a zoom-in on a significant moment and then a zoom-out to develop the story.

That same freshness reflected in his engagement with the class. Dressed in blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, he choked up when talking about some of his past subjects–he truly cares about the people he’s written about. He offered to stay in touch with the students and told Professor Alm how delighted he was with the level of engagement by the class. 

Writing brings Friedman joy. When he isn’t working on a story he is thinking about what he might want to write next, going to the movies, playing the clarinet, and reading non-fiction that “reads like fiction,” a genre he always wanted to write but didn’t think he could make a living from. 

Friedman often writes about sports but likes to think his stories are more about people and their journeys. As he pointed out, his 2015 feature for Bicycling about two recovering addicts who now own a bike shop in Cincinnati, Spun, was at its core a love story. He’s been published in numerous outlets throughout his 40-year career, written four books, co-authored two, and is currently considering a seventh, on America’s first serial killers. 

Friedman embodies the idea of being a human first, and a journalist second. His stories are characterized as much by empathy as by the amount of detail he conveys. Establishing a close relationship with his subjects, he earns their trust, but also warns them: “I am going to hang out with you until you become sick of me.”  

Being fair to the story and his subjects is Friedman’s top priority. As he advised the class, half-joking and half serious: When writing about someone you may find abhorrent, like a neo-Nazi, “try to be fair and present the person as a human being with real reasons for being a savage asshole.”

Our Journalism Concentration & Minor

The Hunter College journalism program is offered as a concentration or a minor within the Department of Film & Media Studies. Its curriculum is built around production courses in journalism and analytical courses in media studies. Learn more about our course requirements.

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